Throughout a litany of anomalies committed during the trial, the most glaring was the Army’s alleged holding back of evidence and not allowing the defence to test vital evidence in the laboratory. Defence lawyer Bernie Segal made an accusatory statement saying that in any court the examination of evidence would be a right for the defence.
But in this particular case it was left entirely up to the discretion of Judge Dupree, a man who, in hindsight, should have retired from the case due to his lack of impartiality. Furthermore, the Army’s compete mishandling of the investigation along with positive testimonies of MacDonald’s character were to be kept from the jury.
Years after the trial the defence were able to scrutinise lab notes through the Freedom of Information Act that disclosed important findings that were never presented to the jury.
Vital pieces of evidence that were held back involved several strands of long blond hair that were found in the hand of Colette, the murdered wife. These fibres were traced to that of Helena Stoeckley’s blonde wig, which she admitted she wore and disposed of shortly after the murders.
Similar hairs were also discovered on the deceased’s hairbrush and Stoeckley later also admitted that she had used the hairbrush on her wig.
The prosecution also claimed that the club, used to beat Colette revealed two dark fibres from MacDonald’s pyjamas, as being sound evidence incriminating the key suspect. Years later this was found to be false.
In fact, the fibres were discovered to have come from Colette’s own mouth, most likely when she was hit by the club. The fibres themselves did not match any clothes found in the house or worn by Colette or MacDonald. Furthermore three wax droppings were discovered in the house, but they did not come from any candles the MacDonald’s owned. Helen Stoeckley was known to use candles for her rituals and the evidence supported MacDonald’s claim that he saw a woman holding a lit candle.
Other pieces of evidence that were held back from being reported to the jury at the time included evidence of a burnt match in one of the children’s bedroom and a number of bloody gloves and a syringe that was lost by the CID lab before they could be tested.
More disturbing was the amount of evidence that cleared MacDonald of suspicion that was simply not presented to the defence team. In other cases, uncorroborated evidence against MacDonald was held back and only presented during the trial, therefore preventing the defence from being able to address the issues.
What the jury also never heard was that no hairs from any of the victims were found entwined with fibres from MacDonald’s pyjamas.
Various pieces of evidence against MacDonald proved highly damaging, but the greatest was perhaps the ‘character assessment’ of the suspect presented by Dr James Brussel. Brussel was selected by Government officials and was known as a celebrity psychiatrist who used ‘psychic’ abilities, often without even seeing the prisoners or suspects in custody. Brussel claimed that MacDonald was a psychopath.
Despite various psychiatric reports on MacDonald’s personality, including one by the respected forensic psychiatrist Dr Seymour Halleck stating that the suspect was stable and a non-pathological personality, none of these testimonies were presented in court. Brussel’s however was admitted for the jury to hear.
The jury delivered its verdict on one of the most protracted court cases in American legal history. MacDonald was convicted of first-degree and two counts of second-degree murder. He was given three life sentences.
He was imprisoned at a Federal prison in Maryland. In 2005, the parole board recommended another fifteen years to be served before another parole hearing.